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California Wine: Domaine Degher Proves Paso Wine Rocks

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Here's a bar bet to challenge your friend who knows everything about music: What do No Doubt, Danny Federici, LA Guns, Santana, Kenny Loggins, and Tupac Shakur all have in common? Answer: Engineer-producer Denis Degher worked on recordings from these crazily diverse artists. After gloating, be sure that your friend pays up with some of Degher's wines -- for he's now making some of the best small production Bordeaux and Rhone varietals in Paso Robles.

Domaine Degher Wines/Mojo Cellars has been his project on an idyllic hilltop just west of the 101 as it heads out of Paso towards San Miguel since 2005. In his home and bonded winery he makes about 500 cases a year, all organic estate fruit from four head-pruned acres. "I was a hang-around guy for a few years," is how he modestly puts it, explaining he learned from area legends Marc Goldberg from Windward Winery (Paso's surprising Pinot Noir producer) and Stephan Asseo from L'Aventure (brilliant mixmaster of red blends). Now Degher makes wines that also defy standard blends -- for instance his 2009 Old School Estate isn't a GSM, "it's a GMS ... and not a GMO," he jokes. It's a 55% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre, and 20% Syrah blend that won a Gold Medal at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for good reason, full of fruit yet with a tannic backbone, supple, ready to accompany a meaty meal.

Music is still at the heart of everything Degher does, as evinced by his wine's label, which features a Gibson guitar. He once ran Red Zone Studios in Santa Monica and now records at home, under the alias Sleepy Guitar Johnson. Asked to pick one musical artist to compare each one of his standard stable of wines to, he says, "The Cab is Bob Dylan because it's complex and ever changing as it breathes. The Mojo is Willie Dixon -- it's big and smooth and takes you someplace. The Old School Estate is Sheryl Crow, because it's feminine, sexy, and full of surprises."

But unlike the usual now-now-now needs that rock feeds, Degher gives his wine all the time in the world, generally letting them bottle age for two to three years. At a recent tasting he did break out a pre-release 2010 Old School -- this one a true GSM at 52% Grenache, 27% Syrah, and 21% Mourvèdre, so he lets each vintage express its best blend -- and said as we tasted its richness, "That's bigger than the average bear." True enough, but somehow Degher always pulls back from the wines becoming monsters -- perhaps it's all those years taming rock excess as a producer and engineer.

Still, the site also features a flying guitar sculpture -- it actually has a wing -- created by Dale Evers, who went on to do a series of guitar sculptures including one at the House of Blues in Vegas. So be ready to rock on if you get your hands on some Domaine Degher, or opt to stay at his bed and bottle Mojo Room, a luxury villa on the property, while tasting in the Paso region.

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